New York Knicks are rolling through NBA season because of Leon Rose’s masterful work

You hear that, the silence? For the first time in over 20 years, the drums of doom no longer
bang throughout the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. And New York Knicks fans
have one man to thank: Leon Rose.

Since taking over the team as the President of Basketball Operations in 2020, Rose has dug them out of the muck and returned them to respectability. But it wasn’t Rose alone. He has always been a package deal with William “Worldwide” Wesley, whom he has partnered with since they ran Creative Arts Agency, where they represented the biggest names in basketball as agents (Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade).

Wesley is currently the Executive Vice President of the Knicks. And current General Manager, Scott Perry, was put in place by the previous regime, led by James Dolan’s acolyte Steve Mills. Upon his takeover, Rose retained only Perry, keeping him in his role while adding big-name front-office names like scouting guru Walt Perrin from the Utah Jazz, master capologist Brock Aller from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and up-and-coming NBA savant Frank Zanin from the Oklahoma City Thunder as the Knicks assistant general manager.

While what you “don’t do” doesn’t earn you points for this award, they should be mentioned as
examples of how Leon Rose operates. During negotiations with the Utah Jazz for Donovan Mitchell in the summer, Rose drew a line over what he was and was unwilling to include in the deal (like
the reported seven first-round picks and Quentin Grimes). As Barrett’s extension was looming
while being included as the centerpiece for Mitchell on the player level, Rose gave Jazz
executive Danny Ainge the deadline of a weekend to accept his offer. When he didn’t, he re-
signed Barrett to a contract extension, eliminating his inclusion in any Mitchell deal. Rose’s
refusal to acquiesce to Ainge’s ridiculous demands showed restraint and a reversal of thinking
by Knicks management from the previous two decades.

Rose has earned top honors for Executive of the Year this season for the moves he made last
summer, on NBA Draft night, and last month’s trade deadline. Honestly, there isn’t even much
competition after Rose for the award. The next best list includes Sacramento Kings General
Manager Monty McNair deserves credit for signing Kevin Huerter and drafting Keegan Murray,
and Phoenix Suns GM James Johnson for his singular move of trading for Kevin Durant. But
what Rose accomplished exists on multiple levels.

Under Rose’s shrewd and sound stewardship, the Knicks are currently on a nine-game win streak and a 39 -27 record while sitting in the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, only one game out of fourth and 3.5 games out of third. They are currently fifth in offensive rating, 14th in defensive rating and seventh in net rating. Defensively they are second in opponents’ points in the paint, third in opponents shooting percentage, fifth in opponents’ three-point percentage, and eighth in opponents’ points per game. 

Offensively, they are fifth in free throws per game, fourth in total rebounds per game, fourth in turnovers, and second in points in overtime. Rose has built this team exclusively through free agency and the draft, a sharp contrast o the last 20 years. Of his nine-man rotation, only Josh Hart was acquired through trade, as Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and Isaiah Hartenstein were signed in free agency.

RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes were selected in the first round, while Mitchell Robinson was selected in the second round. This shows Rose’s emphasis on scouting and development. 

Rose was the best man for the job upon his hiring because, as an agent, he was connected to
every major trade of the last 20 years. He was the agent of Eddy Curry, Andrea Bargnani, and
Carmelo Anthony. He has had a front-row seat to James Dolan’s ineptitude and has even
participated as the negotiator for his players during trades and signings to the Knicks.

Upon moving into their front office, he has made a concerted effort to do business exactly the opposite of Dolan’s of past Knicks execs. He has retained Knicks draft picks and fleeced others from opposing teams. He has added team options at the end of deals and signed guys to descending contracts. Not a single Knicks contract under Rose exceeds $29 million annually. We’ve listed his moves this season to play upon the long game he established upon taking the Knicks’ job
while accelerating the development of their young core.

Breaking the ‘Charlie Ward Curse’

leon rose

One of the most embarrassing metrics of the Knicks’ decades of despair is the “Charlie Ward Curse.”

It’s named as such because the last time the organization re-signed, one of their draft picks was Ward in 1999. It’s an embarrassment of all the picks selected since then: David Lee, Channing Fry, Danilo Gallinari, Iman Shumpert, and Kristaps Porzingus. All came and left without re-upping with the Knicks. The Knicks broke that when they re-signed RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Both are starters and two of the team’s core pieces moving forward.

Barrett was a Lottery pick, taken in the 2019 Draft, while Robinson was the 36th pick in the second round of the 2018 Draft. Re-signing both was critical not only to the team’s foundation but also for optics. For the Knicks to reverse the perception league-wide, they need to retain their homegrown talent to show the rest of the league people want to play and stay in New York.

Fleecing the Dallas Mavericks of Jalen Brunson

leon rose

Before free agency began, Rose made a series of moves with the Detroit Pistons to offload Alec Burkes, Nerlens Noel, and Kemba Walker to create the cap space needed to sign Brunson away from the Mavericks without giving up any assets in a sign-and-trade. The signing broke the Mavs, who depended on Brunson for locker-room vibes as the second-best player. On the Knicks, he has been worthn every penny of the four-year / $104,000,000 contract he signed.

Some in the New York Knicks’ media initially derided the signing as an overpay. But Brunson was not only the best signing of the summer but arguably the best in all of Knicks history. As the point-of-attack in New York, Brunson is averaging 23.9 points, 3.6 rebound, and 6.2 assists, career-highs in points and assists. Brunson has filled the Knicks’ two-decade-long hole at point guard.

Rose’s connections as an agent came in perfectly with signing Brunson. Brunson’s dad, Rick, was Rose’s first client as an agent, and Rose’s son is Brunson’s agent. To top it off, Rose hired Rick as an assistant coach this past summer, putting everything in place to ensure Brunson would be a Knick. He added the best free agent in franchise history and the key to unlocking Tom Thibodeau’s offense.

New York Knicks Draft Night Lottery pick swindle

Ever since he took over in 2019, Rose has pulled off a draft night move to either move up or down in positioning or trade out altogether for future draft capital.

This past summer, after the targets his front office pinpointed (Dyson Daniels, Benedict Mathurin, Johnny Davis) were off the board, Rose pivoted toward trading the 11th pick (Ousmane Dieng) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for three 2023 protected first-round picks, the Wizards (Top-14 protected), the Nuggets (Top-14 protected), and the Pistons (Top-18 protected). Of the three, the Wizards are currently in 10th place in the East, qualifying them for the Play-In Tournament. If they make the playoffs, and that pick ends up in 15th place or better, it will convey to the Knicks this season. The Knicks also have the Mavericks’ 2023 first-round pick (top 10 protected).

Rose’s choice to trade the New York Knicks’ pick to Portland for Josh Hart seems brilliant, as their pick will likely be worse than the Mavericks and Wizards’ picks. He has yet to make a splashy move, opting for small, thoughtful under-the-radar trades. Rose is playing chess while everyone is playing checkers.

Showing Hart at the NBA Trade Deadline

josh hart

Just like at the NBA Draft, Leon Rose has made an under-the-radar move at the deadline. In 2020 it was Derrick Rose. In 2021 it was Cam Reddish. This season Leon Rose acquired Josh Hart from the Portland Trailblazers for their 2023 Lottery-protected draft pick and Reddish.

Hart immediately impacted, as the Knicks have gone 9-0 since acquiring him. He’s brought vocal leadership, elite rebounding, and dogged defense off the bench. He’s been reunited with a Villanova teammate Brunson, who he won an NCAA championship with.

On the New York Knicks, he’s paired with Immanuel Quickley, one of the best defensive guards in the NBA and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, to form a destructive one-two punch. Quickley is ninth in the league in defensive rating at 107, and Hart is 10th in offensive rating at 119.1. The Knicks are a +23.6/100 in the 162 minutes they have played together. It sounds so insanely good you have to read it twice. Hart is sure to be re-signed this summer as a free agent. Until then, he has managed to be the second-best deadline pickup this season, after Kevin Durant was traded to
the Suns.

Finding the Perfect Back-Up Center

leon rose

It has gone relatively unmentioned in mainstream media, but the Knicks’ signing of Isaiah Hartenstein has been pivotal during the stretch of games where Mitchell Robinson missed time with a hand injury.

Hartenstein started at center when Tom Thibodeau shortened his rotation on Dec. 5., and he provided excellent offensive rebounding and defense at the rim during that stretch. He has a 110.3 defensive rating this season and is in the 85 percentile on defense on how he prevents opponents from scoring as a team and stops them on the individual defense. He’s also improved his rebounding this season, averaging a career-high in offensive rebounds (2.8 per game) and total rebounds (6.6 per game).

To further show his impact on rebounding, these increases have put him in the 92nd percentile in
defensive rebounding and an astonishing 97th percentile in offensive rebounding. Rose signed
Hartenstein to a two-year, $16 million contract, making him a great value contract, insurance to
Robinson during injury, and a tradeable contract should Rose use him to upgrade the roster.

Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo

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